I Didn't Do It

One of the most enjoyable extra-curricular activities I took part in as a child was called the Children's Theatre Workshop. Nothing to do with the Children's Television Workshop who produced Sesame Street (although at the time in my head they were somehow linked), this was a group that met every Saturday morning at an office space in the West End of London, tucked away in a side street somewhere behind Bond Street tube. I must have only taken part between the ages of seven and ten but in retrospect it seemed like a long and happy time.

We would meet up and devise short plays, scenarios and sketches as well as taking part in more drama workshop type activities of the standing up, shaking your arms and legs and pretending to be a tree type. The workshop was supervised by a handful of adults and consisted of twenty to thirty children of between eight and thirteen. There were only a handful of the older children there and they all loomed large in the scenarios. They felt like the leaders. Even now I remember the names of a few of them.

As well as the Saturday morning activities (to which a lot of the time I travelled to by myself on the tube - another adventure) there were some day long workshops as well as a couple of productions put on at the Curtain Theatre in Whitechapel, a workshop that lasted several days at the ILEA TV studio in Highbury and Islington during which we recorded a TV sketch show "Us by Us" (which I have never seen - I wonder if it's languishing on a VHS in someone's house somewhere?) and a week in Mortehoe in Devon. The latter I can pin down to an exact date as it was during this week that episode 6 of the Doctor Who story "Genesis of the Daleks" was shown, the hotel TV affording me the first opportunity to watch Doctor Who in colour.

I remember getting very wrapped up in the acting so it almost became real. One time - I seem to remember this being one of the day long sessions - we were producing a whole series of short scenes based around The Queen of Hearts having her tarts stolen. I ended up being the Knave of Hearts which made me kind of uncomfortable as I was the villain but on another level I enjoyed this as it allowed me to act in ways I wasn't accustomed to. We did some workshopping of the characters which didn't end up in the final scenes and in one of them an adult played a judge cross questioning me.

She didn't hold back. "Why did you take them?" she boomed, face like thunder. I muttered something about having been hungry, but inside I'd started getting scared and upset. As she continued hectoring me I felt as if I was about to cry.

The strange thing was I knew full well that this wasn't real and furthermore really liked the woman. And yet I got so into the fiction that I started experiencing the emotions my fictional character would have. I don't know if this means if I'd have stuck at it I would have made a good actor or a terrible one, but on some level it was a relief that this scene didn't make it into the final production.

I enjoyed the acting though, it was fun being someone else and a shame that, aside from a brief stint in a drama workshop as an adult, I didn't take it any further.

I still feel echoes of the irrational upset I experienced during the knave's interrogation to this day whenever I'm in the presence of someone who is expressing their anger at a situation. Even though it's not personal, I can't help feeling that they're shouting at me. I am, after all, the only person there and in my head there's no point in shouting at nothing. An erroneous interpretation of course and it's probably healthy for the person involved to let off steam in this way. Whilst I do what I can to help and comfort them I can't ignore the fact that same phrase goes round and round in my head every time.

"I didn't do it."


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